Life and Death in Shanghai is an absorbing story of resourcefulness and courage, spoiled only by a touch of self-righteousness: Mrs. Cheng is always right, her persecutors always wrong. It also provides fascinating insights into thought reform in Mao's China. Though Mrs. Cheng was accused, at least nominally, of a specific offense, what her interrogators wanted from her is much more like what we would think of as a confession of sin or of sinfulness. As one of them explained to her, ''The first requisite to confession is an admission of guilt. You must admit your guilt not only to the People's Government, but also to yourself. The admission of guilt is like the opening of the floodgates. When you admit sincerely that you are indeed guilty...your confession will flow out easily."
J.M. Coetzee - New York Times Book Review
This is the extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman who, despite 6 1/2 long years of imprisonment and torment in Communist China, not only survived but endured and even prevailed. It is a story that began more than 20 years ago but has special relevance today. That is so partly because many of those who benefited during a decade of madness not only have gone unpunished but are trying to make a comeback, and partly because a story that so vividly documents the triumph of the human spirit over inhumanity is always relevant.
This gripping account of a woman caught up in the maelstrom of China's Cultural Revolution begins quietly. In 1966, only the merest rumblings of political upheaval disturbed the gracious life of the author, widow of the manager of Shell Petroleum in China. As the rumblings fast became a cataclysm, Cheng found herself a target of the revolution: Red Guards looted her home, literally grinding underfoot her antique porcelain and jade treasures; and she was summarily imprisoned, falsely accused of espionage. Despite harsh privation,even torture, she refused to confess and was kept in solitary confinement for over six years, suffering deteriorating health and mounting anxiety about the fate of her only child, Meiping. When the political climate softened, and she was released, Cheng learned that her fears were justified: Meiping had been beaten to death when she refused to denounce her mother. The candor and intimacy of this affecting memoir make it addictive reading. Its intelligence, passion and insight assure its place among the distinguished voices of our age proclaiming the ascendancy of the human spirit over tyranny. Cheng is now a U.S. resident.
Cheng's widely acclaimed book recounts in compelling specifics her persecution and imprisonment at the hands of Mao Zedong's "Cultural Revolution'' (1966-1976). Inquisitors accused her of being a "spy'' and "imperialist,'' but during the harrowing years of solitary confinement she never gave in, never confessed a lie. We read this, not so much for historical analysis, but, like the literature of the Gulag in Russia, for an example of a humane spirit telling terrible truths honestly, without bitterness or cynicism. Highly recommended. BOMC main selection. —Charles W. Hayford, History Dept., Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL
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